Do We Need the CBC?

The recent Conservative budget has reopened the debate about the place of the CBC in the Canadian landscape.  While the conversation draws some heated opinions on both sides, that of course won’t stop a courageous writer like me that hides behinds a keyboard and pen name from stating my own viewpoint!

The Road To Bankruptcy Is Paved With Good Intentions

I believe that when the CBC began, it was absolutely essential at almost any cost.  It was one of the only mediums of communication, and for many parts of Canada it was the only television available.  It was undeniably a key means of getting information out from coast-to-coast, and held great cultural value in terms of defining Canada a country.  I believe it certainly justified its fairly high cost to the public purse in times past… wait for it… *sound of other shoe dropping*… Unfortunately for the CBC, the world we live in today is not the world of yesteryear.  I believe the current financial commitment in tax dollars to the CBC should be slashed much more dramatically than the current budget suggests (roughly 10%), because its importance to Canadians is vastly diminished relative to even 15 years ago.  Imagine what hundreds of millions of dollars could do in terms of plugging the holes in education, health care, or infrastructure?  These are the priorities I believe most Canadians have, and the CBC, while a nice luxury to possess, is simply one we can’t afford any more.

Unfair Competition

The CBC has consistently lost market share to their private rivals that do not benefit from a taxpayer subsidy.  This fact alone dictates that people have voted with their television remotes already.  The CBC likes to spin the government funding they receive (a fairly substantial $1.16 billion) by saying that it creates 3x that much for the Canadian economy.  My response is that a private company could take those assets and do even better for the Canadian economy as a whole (as evidenced by their already more efficient business models).  In addition to losing out to their television adversaries, the CBC has been rendered much less irreplaceable in terms of a news source to a majority of Canadians because of the internet and cheap satellite TV capabilities.  There are almost no isolated communities that solely depend on the CBC any longer, and I challenge people to find me more than a handful of Canadians under 25 who watch the CBC at all.

Do I Hear $.50 For Don Cherry’s Wardrobe… Going Once…

My mouth is watering at the sale of some of the CBCs assets.  Just the premium real estate that their studios sit on must be worth a fairly healthy amount.  Think about the bidding war that would begin over the Hockey Night in Canada property between Canada’s multimedia corporations.  I have absolutely no idea how we could value their assets, and my meagre research skills didn’t turn up any estimates online, but if we immediately applied that amount to our debt, it would be a great contribution!  I don’t agree with selling government assets just for a one-time cash influx if they are profitable, but clearly the CBC is not capable of even standing on their own two feet, never mind actually making money.

I have several friends in the journalism industry, and they all report the same reality – that everyone wants a CBC job because they are better-paying and much more cushy in terms of benefits and expectations.  While this might be great for the unionized workers at CBC, it is definitely not advantageous to the average Canadian.  Nor is it fair to the other networks that compete with the CBC.  Why should the Canadian taxpayer fit the bill for salaries that are driving up costs in the market?  It is the classic private-public dilemma, and balance desperately needs to be restored.  When Don Cherry (a CBC employee) makes double what the Prime Minister does, there is definitely something wrong.  If Cherry can get that much on the free market all the power to him (I still find him entertaining), but there is no way Canadians should have to pay for that when we are making cuts to healthcare and education.

An Alternate Proposal

We don’t have to do away with the CBC entirely, just pair it down and call it what it really is.  Why are we trying to fund an entity to compete with the legitimate businesses?  Instead, let’s allow the CBC to become a specialized niche channel that is a Canadian version of PBS.  It can apply for funding on a project-by-project basis like that station does, it can still put out a centralized national newcast if it wishes, and it can focus on education-related topics and cheap Canadian content.  What are we getting right now – Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in primetime?  Great Canadian content there, Alex Trebek might be a good Canadian ambassador, but he isn’t exactly a Vimy Ridge-esque part of the Canadian fabric.  The public broadcasting spectrum in the USA costs $1.38 per person.  Let’s be generous since we all know we are pinko socialists up here and budget $2.00 a person, and hopefully that can cover the CBC website too.  That’s around 70 million a year.  I for one would be happy with that compromise.  Would you?

Written by Teacher Man

TM writes about all things personal finance over at My University Money and Young and Thrifty. He intends to continue his quest for lifelong learning and hopefully help others along the way.

28 Responses to Do We Need the CBC?

  1. Beardie says:

    It’s one of those political creations. Some people, like you, think it’s a waste of money. Others insist we must have it as an exercise in nation-building and the promotion of Canadian-ness.

    As for “premium real estate” — CBC’s annual report is on its corporate website. It shows $426 million (amortized value) in buildings but only $20 million in land.

    • Teacherman says:

      Hmm, thanks for showing just how inept my research skills are Beardie! I would have thought their urban real estate was worth considerably more than that. Why do you think it is so low? Those assets would be a nice one-time transfer of funds though.

      • Beardie says:

        $20 million doesn’t seem like much for land, does it? Perhaps the building figure includes the land the buildings stand on. Or perhaps they lease some land. It might be a good matter for you to raise with their CFO at the Annual Public Meeting in October/November :)

  2. MyCanadianFinances says:

    I agree with Beardie. There are two sides.
    People probably would notice the lack of the CBC a lot more than they would see the benefits to education or healthcare. Then again, it does eat up a ton of our funds.

    I think it should be cut. Or at least cut down until the next crisis/world event so it can be used as a political tool. Think of CBC like the Colosseum in Rome. It was used to control the masses.

    • Teacherman says:

      Yah, but the Colosseum was so much cooler. On the other hand, how great would Don Cherry be commenting on gladiator fighting. “Those damn Libyans aren’t tough enough for our Roman boys… and their taking our jobs away!”

  3. I disagree completely with getting rid of the CBC. That said, I do agree that there are some problems with the network and it needs to be reformed. Look at what the BBC is to the UK and you can get a quick sense of what the CBC could be to Canada. CTV, Global, etc – they are all mostly just redistributing American content. The CBC is one of the last vestiges of Canadian content on television. Getting rid of the CBC is just moving one step closer to the loss of our national identity and to our Americanization.
    If you give their programming a chance, its actually quite good. The only way the CBC can grow and produce better content is if people start watching. People will only start watching if the CBC gives them something good to watch. Its a Catch-22. Someone has to give first – either the government has to put the money in or the viewers have to tune in – or better yet, both!

    • Teacherman says:

      The CTV does what is profitable and what people will watch. If Canadians wanted to watch Canadian programming so much, wouldn’t the CBC’s ratings be much higher? I personally wouldn’t watch most CBC programming, and to say that the CBC isn’t currently repackaging a lot of American content (WOF and Jeopardy?)is just false. Haven’t we already voted with our remotes? Your logic falls apart when you consider that CBC had a market monopoly in much of Canada not long ago. You’re trying to say that a positive feedback cycle needs to develop, but the evidence says that negative feedback cycle has in fact been around for quite a while now.

      • A positive feedback cycle does need to develop. If more people watched CBC programming, then they would get more advertising revenue, which they could put back into the programming to make it better. The CBC bought the rights to WOF and Jeopardy in an effort to get more people to watch the hours of Canadian programming that follows those shows. Again, sometimes you have to concede a bit here and there in order to get to the end goal. The CBC had a market monopoly back when there were only about 5-6 channels in total. Now, people have hundreds of channels to choose from, and nearly all of them represent American-produced content. You say you wouldn’t watch most CBC programming…what have you actually tried to watch? Some of the shows on the CBC are actually quite good. Being Erica just finished a four season run, and was one of the best shows on TV in my opinion. The ironic part…I’m fighting for the CBC to exist, and I don’t actually even own a TV.

        • So let me get this straight. We agree that the CBC did have a monopoly at one time. If their programming was as great as you think, shouldn’t it be able to at least break even given the massive initial competitive advantage it had and the subsidized competitive advantage it continues to enjoy? Then you say that in order to get people to the CBC to see the “great” programming they need the American programs? That logic breaks down somewhere man.

          I do keep click through the CBC once in awhile. I have started watching the Mr. D series which is pretty funny, but my point is that CTV would pick up these series since they are profitable. The demand just simply isn’t there to justify the massive expense.

          • The logic doesn’t break down, you’re just not understanding. The Americanization of Canadian society has eroded any advantage the CBC had over time, and it will continue to do so for the forseeable future, especially as long as people like yourself champion its downfall.

  4. Hockey Night in Canada and The National are the only shows I watch. Not sure it’s enough for me to fight for it’s existence.

  5. Marcy Berg says:

    I find this post very upsetting. If you live or near a major urban center I can uderstand this attitude but for Canadian living outside this deomocratic profile the CBC is everything. Once again people in Uraban Canada can feel marginalized by big city mentality. So you think we don’t need the CBC? Where would you propose people get their current events? Aside from that, CBC has given many Canadian Artists a start in this country. We have a culture that needs to be preserved and celebrated. Perhaps you should tune into to Tom Powers and his Roots Music knowledge, or Randy Bachman tales of blues music history in this country. Also you might want to try Laurie Brown’s show who show cases some of the best hiddent gems in the music industry. I think what you have said is purely from a dollar a cents point of view and not from a value point of view. This is one tax payer who is happy to pay her share.

    • Teacherman says:

      HAHA I love that you believe I must be an urban Canadian Marcy. Trust me, I’m about as small town as they come buddy. Do you think we don’t have satellite receivers, internet, or smart phones out there in the boonies? What, do we live in igloos as well? You honestly believe people get their current events from CBC? Dream on! If the Canadian content is so good, and there is a demand to see the Canadian Artists, then the show will pop up some where else. If the demand isn’t there (and I suspect this is the case) then why does it deserved to be subsidized by my public tax dollars? Set up a music appreciation blog and hands off my tax dollar!

  6. Melissa says:

    Simply on principal, Canada needs the CBC. Period. PBS is a joke of a public broadcaster, when what we really should be aiming at is to be more like the BBC. (Fun fact, the US is the only developed nation without a proper public broadcaster, and Canadians pay less in taxes than EVERY OTHER nation with a public broadcaster.)

    As much as it might seem frustrating, it is imperative to democracy to have a public broadcaster, because it’s difficult to say what concessions will be made in reporting the news when things like budgets and failing businesses and advertisers come into play. The CBC has a lot of protection and freedom to report because it doesn’t have to cowtow to advertisers. CTV and Global do not have this luxury. Not to say that their reporting isn’t fair and balanced, but there are most certainly issues that they are unlikely to report on.

    Not to say that the CBC is perfect, but in terms of news reporting, it’s better than anything Canada is ever going to get from a private broadcaster. Yes, it could use an overhaul, but to answer your question, yes, Canada DOES need the CBC.

    • Teacherman says:

      How is PBS a joke and CBC isn’t Melissa? PBS has produced dozens of impressive documentaries (see anything by Ken Burns) and I think it hits their target demographic perfectly. People that run the CBC have intrinsic biases as well Melissa, it is up to each of us to understand what we read and hear and make our own decisions. Besides, if we ran the station as a sort of PBS, we could still keep the National and the reporting that you are so scared of losing. I think that Canada likes the CBC (in a friend way, nothing passionate) but it NEEDS things like better infrastructure, debt reductions etc.

  7. Greg says:

    Publicly funded journalism is for the common good.

    Private media companies take away autonomy and impartiality in reporting. One only has to look to Fox News for an extreme example of “journalism” abused for political and economic interests… it’s nothing but lies and entertainment.

    The government hates the CBC as they have the ability to report without bias what other news organizations are unable to.

  8. Jon says:

    I agree with Teacherman.

    Private broadcasters have to compete with the CBC for advertizing, channel space and pay and perks for employees. (The CBC “poaches” good journalists from other networks) Essentially, the private companies are competing indirectly with the government (“endless” ability to tax and print money).

    The CBC barely has enough programming to fill one channel(in each language), why does it need so many channels?

    @Marcy Berg: 80% of Canadians live in urban areas so you lose out on this one. Besides, with the expansion of internet everywhere, you won’t need the CBC in rural communities either (for “current events” or otherwise)

    • Marcy Berg says:

      Do you see rural Canadians how much you matter to people living in major urban centers. They have no idea. Oh and the 80% – not even close.

      So feel free to tune into a privately owned news station in your nearest major urban center and hear the traffic report, the antics of the city council, some team you could care less about. Apparently what goes on in the fisheries, mining, oil and lumber industry is of little concern to the important people.

      Oh and as for all you young artists trying to build your craft? Well you are out of luck because the so called 80% don’t care much if your there or not. People who don’t think we need a CBC will never understand what it does. They think it’s a nightly news cast and a hockey game.

      As for the internet – you don’t go on the internet to hear your drive home show that introduces you to Candian talent or issues across the country. I think the consevatives are so hard on the CBC because it’s the glue that keeps the country informed what is going on in other areas. I love the CBC for keeping me in touch with the issues that face every corner of a country I’m proud of.

      • Teacherman says:

        Marcy, I am a rural Canadian, have been my whole life. I can tell you that such a vast majority of us have other means of multimedia (this is the 21st century) that it is a completely irrelevant argument to make. We actually can tune into private stations to listen to those reports… I do every morning. Why should I pay for young artists to build their craft? In this day and age, if you are good enough to make it, they will find you! Go on Canada’s Got Talent or something. Your obvious bias is overpowering your reason here.

  9. Paul N says:

    I have to disagree that the CBC is NOT biased. They are very biased especially around election time.

    I agree with the above poster. The only show that is watchable is hockey. The station should sustain itself without government money. In fact shouldn’t it try to make a small profit and use that to grow?

    I’m still angry at predatory companies like air Canada was in the past. They deliberately undercut competitors airlines (and killing them – Canada 3000 for example) knowingly losing money at targeted routes because they knew they would be bailed out by tax dollars later. The way they treat passengers shows the long term result. Your almost made to feel your lucky that you can be on their “special plane”, not vice versa.

    CBC operates much like that. They can provide sub par programming because they have a safety net in place. If anyone has a complaint or negative comment, then they attack and don’t consider any constructive criticism.

  10. Cancitizen0 says:

    I don’t have a problem with some cuts, but the CBC was/is critical to my sense of nationalism, especially as a child of immigrants. If anything, I think we need to do even more to encourage interest in local and national stories/programming. CBC radio is also a truly great collection of programming distinct from the TV productions (admittedly I’m a radio/podcast guy). CBC’s responsibilities are different from those of other stations that are simply responsible to their shareholders. Can. content on other networks receive subsidies, so I’m ok with helping out the other networks as well. Bell (owns CTV) is a monopoly with their fingers in Internet, phone and TV, so it’s laughable to suggest they aren’t privy to certain unfair advantages as well.

    Almost no one under 30 goes to the ballet, the opera or the symphony, (in fact tickets are quite cheap in TO if your’re young) yet I’m sure we’ll keep funding those.

    Let’s think of ways to make CBC more efficient in achieving its mandate instead of dismissing it. Reasonable cutbacks are fair, but

    • This is by far the best argument I have read Can Citizen. I find it interesting that is integral to your sense of nationalism. I am surprised, because if more people felt like you and watched the CBC then we wouldn’t have to subsidize it and I would be waving the flag like everyone else! One mini-series I liked that they did was “Canada a People’s History” but again, PBS produces similar content all the time for a much smaller price tag.

      While Bell does enjoy certain advantages, they do have competitors and they do participate in a free market. The CBC does not. Your point about the ballet is well-founded, and you could expand to include all of the professional and semi-professional sports teams that the government supports as well. Here is where I get really extreme and say that I don’t believe tax dollars should be used for those things either. If the demand isn’t there for an enterprise to survive on its own two feet, I have not heard a convincing argument for why tax dollars should be used to support it.

  11. Marcus says:

    Hey friends

    There a couple a couple of arguments above in favor of the CBC that I agree with. The main one is the sense of nationalism is gives citizens across the nation. There is no denying the CBC is entrenched deeply into Canadian broadcasting history. Sure, a big part of that is because there were a handful of stations to choose from after television entered the scene. But that is besides the point. The CBC guarantees more Canadian content than all other networks. The news station itself broadcasts excellent news such as Power and Politics which places members of major political parties in debate over important policies of the day, and very up-to-date news reporting that includes participation from viewers via social networking giant Twitter. So we have at least attempts at achieving the gold standard of truth by creating live political debate while also creating a stage for the public to state their opinion. Also, they do have some good Canadian television shows such as Little Mosque on the Prairie and Republic of Doyle which emphasize the beauty of marginalized societies in our massive country. Speaking of this big country, nothing helps us feel closer than a broadcaster that every Canadian in the country can access assuming they at least own a radio. Consider our Northern friends in the territories as well. They don’t all have access to the private networks like we do as they are considerably more expensive to remote communities, ESPECIALLY those in the North.
    And my favorite argument, the CBC is just plain healthy goodness for our good old friend democracy. We should be happy that we are considered a hybrid broadcasting nation that has both public and private broadcasting as they are bound to differ in the way they deliver their news. I understand the argument that we already have enough stations today to offer up an abundance of varying outputs of news, but even if there are hundreds that are private, the one public broadcaster will offer up a view that is not necessarily the best, but it will be from a different perspective and that is what counts.

    Thanks for reading!

  12. Rick M says:

    Hello,

    Knowing this is a discussion that will go nowhere and the CBC will survive……!

    I think changing to a PBS format would tell Canadians if they really wanted or needed the CBC or the option to heavily reduce the tax dollar funding over a period of a few years and let the CBC pick it up in advertising as they are now doing.
    In the PBS format, those that do can send in their donations. Those that don’t will not have their tax dollars spent on something they don’t want.

    Maybe the current tax dollar funding could be better spent annually in the Healthcare/education systems…..

    I agree TSN would cover off the sports side, so nothing lost there. The National may or may not survive on a PBS format which again tells us it was worth/not worth it. Like it or not….a lot of budget for the National is spent on “personalities”. I’m sorry, we don’t need these types of wages paid on my dime, to read me the news and reporters are not the high salaries I’m talking about!

    As stated……this is the 21st Century……is CBC a leftover dinosaur?

    For me, the CBC is not part of my Canadian nationalism.
    The CBC is just a drain on my tax dollar.

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